Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Interview with Mark Whiteway, author of Carrie Anne's World: An Odyssey through Space and Time

Today it gives the Speculative Fiction Showcase great pleasure to interview Mark Whiteway, the author of forthcoming novel Carrie Anne's World: An Odyssey through Space and Time.

Your latest novel, Carrie Anne's World, debuts in April 2021. Tell us about the book and the titular character.

Carrie Anne’s World is the story of a girl lost in space and time, set against the background of an Earth being decimated by climate change.

We meet Carrie Anne alone on a cliff top with no memory of her past. Who is she? Where is she? And how did she get here? Mike O’Keefe. A gap-year student volunteering on a conservation project encounters her in a series of recurring dreams. He dismisses the experience, but when elements from his dreams begin appearing in the waking world, he is propelled on a two billion year journey spanning the evolution of the solar system with the survival of Humanity at stake!

According to the blurb, your protagonist, Mike O'Keefe, visits the paradise island of Koh Tao when he is caught up in a terrorist attack. What was the inspiration for the story?

Both awareness of climate change and the determination to tackle it have grown in recent years so that most people agree it’s the biggest issue currently facing Mankind.

I remember seeing the movie Silent Running starring Bruce Dern whose character is trying to save the last of Earth’s forests. It was a movie well ahead of its time - its director and SFX specialists went on to produce Star Wars. But it also asks a thought-provoking question – how far would you go to protect Earth’s ecology?

This is a key theme in Carrie Anne’s World. It’s a cautionary tale, but also a tale of hope. Humans are capable of unbelievable stupidity but also great nobility. Which will win out in the end, I wonder?

You have written many books - two trilogies and a quartet. Is this novel a standalone and does it connect with any of your other universes?

No, Carrie Anne’s World has no connection to the Lodestone or Arc of the Universe sagas.

It was conceived as a standalone novel, but as with all of my books, I have left room for a sequel. There is plenty of scope for a “Return to Carrie Anne’s world”!

Are you primarily a writer of Science Fiction or do you stray into other genres?

Science fiction is my first love, but I have developed a strong attachment to mysteries. Lodestone Book Five had a strong mystery element which was continued in Book Six.

Carrie Anne’s World follows in that tradition. The mysteries surrounding Carrie Anne and her world unfold slowly as the book continues. Early on she writes “6 = 3” in the sand, though she doesn’t comprehend the meaning. When Mike eventually figures it out, the solution to the puzzle sets the theme for the remainder of the book.

The book also has a dash of romance, for those who enjoy such things!

Tell us about The Lodestone Series, the two trilogies set on the planet Kelanni and its universe. What inspired you to create that world and did you anticipate that it would turn into six books?

No, I certainly didn’t!

The basic idea came from Einstein. His Theory of Relativity predicts a number of strange consequences for our understanding of reality. One of these is the possible existence of negative matter. Although negative matter has never been found, we know from the math involved that it would have some highly peculiar properties, including negative gravity and negative inertia. My thought was “What might happen to an alien society that was exposed to a source of negative matter and the power it offered?” The result was flying cloaks, engines that run without fuel and the Lodestone series of books!

The first trilogy met with great success. I had left an opening for the story to continue, so I began on a second Lodestone trilogy going back into Kelanni’s past and challenging many of the assumptions in the first trilogy. Book Six was a celebration of the series, bringing back all of your favourite characters for one final grand adventure!

However, I left three distinct plot lines to continue, so…

Is it fair to say, without giving away too much, that humans are not exactly the heroes of the series?

Yes…and no. In the beginning of the Lodestone story arc, it certainly seems that way. I did find that creating a situation where the reader is in sympathy with aliens and against humans was an interesting story mechanic. However, characters and races in my books are never entirely “white hat” or “black hat”. The Kelanni ultimately find humans they can trust and even work with.

How do you go about creating an alien world and peoples?

I can easily answer this, but I’m not sure you’ll understand the answer… The world grows around you.

Or to quote Ray Bradbury when he was asked how he writes; he said, “You jump off a cliff and build wings on the way down!”

For example, most people tell me that their favourite character in Lodestone is the Chandara. Boxx, and the Chandara life cycle is integral to the story, and yet I did not come up with the idea until I was well into the first volume. The only way I can explain it is that the creature came along when I needed it!

Your quartet of books appears under the title The Arc of the Universe. The hero is a human called Regan Quinn who finds himself on an epic journey to save humanity. Is this story set in the same universe as the one in The Lodestone series?

No, it’s completely different. Lodestone is set on the world of Kelanni. The Arc of the Universe takes place across a vast interstellar alliance known as “The Consensus” with worlds as diverse as Nemazi - a desert planet, wracked by storm fronts of fractured time; Pann - a layered world where civilizations build atop one another and The Haven - a lone world in a null universe - a world that cannot exist and yet does!

What sort of man is Regan Quinn? You mention that he is accompanied by his “reanimated son, Conor”. Does this story deal with matters of life and death as well?

Considering that everyone else dies in the first chapter of Book One, I would have to answer, “Yes”!

Regan Quinn is a colonist on a world circling Kapetyn’s star known as Eire. After losing his wife in death, he takes his son and joins another colony fleet with the aim of starting a new life. The vessels are attacked, his son dies and he wakes up in a white room where the only feature is a window where the view is constantly changing. Is he dead? Is he dreaming? Is he the subject of some bizarre experiment?

His son re-appears, whole and uninjured. But is it really his son…?

Your stories have won numerous awards and have been critically well-received. What does that mean to you as a writer?

It’s gratifying, but if I’m honest, I get more satisfaction from a reader who tells me how much they enjoyed the story!

You talk about your admiration for authors such as H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and Robert Heinlein, and live not far from Wells’s former home in Sussex, England. What is the importance of these writers to you?

When I was young, I was the ultimate bookworm. I read everything – R L Stevenson, C S Forrester, Edgar Allan Poe. Then I moved over to Wells, Verne and Heinlein as well as John Wyndham and John Brunner.

I was also a history nut, and this comes out strongly in the Arc series where the Elinare can transport you to anywhere you have ever known or heard of. It was a story mechanic I loved and used to the full! So Quinn ends up at the Alamo, the London Blitz, the Irish Uprising of 1920, the Minotaur’s Labyrinth and the Ninth Circle of Dante’s Inferno!

Your books have super cover art, and Carrie Anne's World is no exception. Tell us about the concepts and the artists behind them.

The Lodestone covers showcase the various vessels in the series from the Kelanni sailing ship on Book One to the floating Chezarel city of Book Six. The Arc Covers show the key characters and were designed by an artist from Belarus.

For Carrie Anne’s World, I contacted a number of designers, but Miblart came up with a cover that pretty well captured the mood of the book from the first draft. I plan to use them in future!

What are you reading now, and are there any TV shows you like to follow or stream?

Paul Kearney and Roger Zelazny. Both have moments of brilliance in their writing that simply blow you away!

Like America, Britain has a long tradition of Science Fiction, starting with Wells (if not before). How does British SF differ from that from the US?

Both have their “Greats”.

Actually, the first ever work of Science Fiction is generally considered to have been the classic Battle of Dorking, written in 1871 by the Englishman George Tomkyns Chesney. It will probably shock you to know that I have written a follow up! It’s a 5000 word short story, as yet unpublished, which takes Chesney’s story forward. So far as I know, I’m the only writer ever to have attempted the conceit of following up the original Chesney classic! As yet, only a handful of people have read it. It’s my best kept secret!

What are you working on next?

I am about 20 percent along with my next novel entitled, Whipstitch. Like Carrie Anne’s World, the central theme is the environment, but the story could not be more different. It takes place in Pennsylvania, and it’s the first book I have ever attempted to write in US English. I am eternally grateful to my American beta reader for correcting my frequent gaffs!

About Mark Whiteway:

"Writing SciFi was a long held ambition of mine. As a kid, I read everything from Wells to Verne to Heinlein. At twelve years old, I wrote a novella. (I still have it, hand-written in a huge ledger). 

"Following that, life intervened, and it was only in April '09 that I determined to get back to writing. Several ideas had been running around in my head for some time, of which the Lodestone concept was the strongest. As I began to develop the story, it became clear that I was not going to be able to do justice to it in a single book, and so the Lodestone Series was born. The first trilogy was quite well received, which led to a second trilogy in the Lodestone universe and I then branched out into a new story which became The Arc of the Universe quartet of books. “Lockdown” enabled me to complete the epic Carrie Anne’s World and to start my next project. And on we go!         

Mark Whiteway lives in rural West Sussex, England.    

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